Album Review: Alice In Chains- Tripod

Alice in chains tripodALICE IN CHAINS- Alice in Chains (Tripod)

Make no mistake, the album cover is only a taste of how gloomy this record gets. Alice in Chains, also called Tripod, spent a good 6 months or so as my number one album of all time a couple years back. Their last studio record found AIC in top shape. Although it was clear that Layne Staley was immersed in a serious battle with drugs, the music on this record is, at times, unbelievable. Many remember this record for the eerie, green, three legged dog on the cover. Perhaps one of the most disturbing covers ever creates wonderful imagery of the mood of this record. The desperation, gloom, and destruction of this poor creature is likely a parallel of Layne’s Staley own hopeless situation.

With lengthy, somewhat disturbing songs like "Sludge Factory" and "Frogs" this record is not, by any means, an accessible one. Even though I am in love with the album, I have to admit that it is the most utterly hopeless piece of music that I have ever heard. Even among normally desolate AIC albums this one stands out as particularly bleak. The CD takes you on a voyage of death, desperation, and regret. Even on it’s most accessible, catchy, and light hearted songs - "Heaven Beside You", "Over Now", and "Shame in You" – Tripod manages to depress. It is truly the depth of the emotional response that is pulled from the listener that earns this record its appeal. Layne’s voice remains captivating. His out of control drug problem making him sound as he is almost singing from his grave site. To understand the guitarwork on most of the album you need only refer to tracks one and three- "Grind" and "Sludge Factory." Grinding and sludgy is certainly the name of the game throughout the album.

For me, there are two top tier songs on this record. First and foremost, Heaven Beside You (it spent about a year as my all time favorite song). This somewhat unusually, Southern twinged song is out of the norm for AIC. However, it's not altogether unexpected, as they have experimented with similar folk-like songs in past albums- "Rooster" from Dirt and "Don't Follow" from Jar of Flies. Indeed, there's even another similar song on Tripod in "Over Now." Obviously, nothing ever touched "Heaven Beside You," a song whose icy, dark sound always makes me think of the grim reaper. "Grind" is the other masterpiece. Certainly a marvel of metal which reunites the band with its heavy roots. Boasting a simple, crunching riff that explores territory rarely visited since Facelift, "Grind" also has the distinction of being one of the few defiant songs on the hopelessly acquiescent album.

While it does have fewer timeless classics than past albums, Tripod is not lacking in unforgettable tracks. "Frogs" is my next favorite song on the album. I have searched the internet, and apparently, somehow, this song has never been used in a horror movie. This extremely ominous piece of music is not one I like listening to with the lights off. "Over Now" starts with a traditional military funeral bugle and then marches over seven minutes of chunky, restrained guitars to complete a very appropriate swan song both for the album and the band in general. "Shame In You" is one of AIC's most underrated songs, though I don't like it nearly as much as I did during the original incarnation of this review. This slightly whiny, regretful tune is really created by Layne’s incredible voice, and as usual deals with a drug related theme. "Sludge Factory" certainly deserves recognition. It is a very unique and paranoid sounding song. The theme of corporate greed, is very relevant today and marks a rare political statement for the band. The three other noteworthy songs are the distorted, haunting "Brush Away," the intense but somewhat unfocused "Head Creeps," and the slightly overrated, fan favorite "Again."

Tripod certainly has its share of ups, but it has more missteps than I am used to from the band. It is obvious that there was a decent amount of instability in the band. Layne's appearances were infrequent and often disappointing during its recording. This can be seen by several songs that are unpleasantly meandering and unfocused. This is the first AIC album where the dreaded f word comes to mind (filler, if you were wondering). In particular, the album hits an unusually prolonged rut from tracks eight through ten. "God Am" is a bitter song that at times is pleasantly familiar, but has unusually annoying vocals and is extremely disjointed overall. "So Close" sounds out of key, ugly, and repetitive throughout. Along with "Swing on this" from Jar of Flies, this ranks as my least favorite AIC song. Lastly, "Nothin' Song" is far too silly for such a bleak, serious record, and frankly, just doesn't work at all. Though there are more peaks and valleys than our spoiled ears are used to, taken for what it is, the record is still powerful and meaningful. Not a good choice for a first AIC record to try, but an imperative listen to anyone who likes the band in the least.

1. Grind- 9.7

2. Brush Away- 7.2

3. Sludge Factory- 7.9

4. Heaven Beside You- 10

5. Head Creeps- 7.4

6. Again- 7.2

7. Shame in You- 8.2

8. God Am- 4.5

9. So Close- 2.9

10. Nothin’ Song- 3.8

11. Frogs- 8.7

12. Over Now- 8.4

Overall Score: 9.7- Incredibly emotional and desolate, with some all time greats.

Updated: 06/30/08


0 #1 Mr.Sam 2012-06-13 06:54
Interesting review, disappointingly male sounding though. Firstly the parallels between drug use and the music were far too many, and I think from a personal standpoint (which is the point of which you've reviewed this album from), you are far too obsessed with Layne's drug use than the music itself.

The constant use of lists, and letting every reader know what your all time favourite, or 6th, or 35th favourite song is seems a bit ridiculous.

Furthermore, within the constant mention of addiction and gloominess, you didn't once mention Sean Kinney's outstanding drumming (Refer to the constant ghost notes in Frogs), or Jerry's great riffs from that period, or even Layne's lyrics or vocal melodies.
0 #2 RE: Album Review: Alice In Chains- TripodThe Rock Czar 2012-06-18 21:57
Granted this is a really old review of mine, I do mention both the vocals and guitar work on the album. Also, there's just no way to not mention drug use when writing about this album.

0 #3 God Am is a great AIC tune!Luke 2012-09-11 06:30
...not an all time great, but seriously 4.5/10? Call it a slow burner maybe, but after my 1000th spin of the album sometimes it's a bit of a favourite.
0 #4 Decent reviewDane 2013-01-13 04:18
Not a bad review, I have a slightly different outlook on this musical work of art though, I actually feel heaven beside you is a bit overrated (it's kind of boring the chorus made the song IMO) and that again is one of the all time greats on the album, God Am is one of my favorite songs on this album and I can't say I hate so close it's.... Catchy in a weird way I think nothing song is the worst song on the album personally its literally about nothing. This album is right behind dirt for me, I definitely agree with you on grind and FINALLY someone giving Frogs the respect it deserves, very powerful lyrics, sludge factory was my personal favorite off this album, spine chilling anthem that one is.

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